Thursday, September 07, 2017

Crying Quietly: is anyone listening?

In this guest post for JDCMB, the 18-year-old composer and writer Jack Pepper, from Surrey, makes an impassioned plea to stop the closure of Dorking's Performing Arts Library. 

Crying Quietly: is anyone listening?

Save Surrey’s Performing Arts Library

Jack Pepper

Jack Pepper
This year, Surrey County Council needs to make savings of more than £100m, and as a result Dorking’s Performing Arts Library – which holds a plethora of scores, books, play scripts, libretti and records - is potentially facing the chop. For the sake of music, musicians, education, and our country’s heritage, we must not let this cultural goldmine close.

We hear a lot of grumbling nowadays. ‘Austerity’ is a familiar word, and it seems impossible to check a Facebook feed or an online journal without someone writing about what in their opinion is a ‘national disgrace’. But this blog is not political – the Surrey Performing Arts Library has faced closure in the past – and I do not seek to condemn one political party or endorse another. Instead, I’d like to shift the focus back to music.

That’s what the Surrey Performing Arts Library does so well. With countless orchestral and choral sets, miniature scores, valuable music history books and records, this building is far more than an efficiency saving. It is a cultural treasure-trove, and for musicians like me it is invaluable. Before a rehearsal up in London, I can rent a score and save hundreds of pounds a month. Equally, I can purchase a music history book for £1 that you could only find for £30 anywhere else. 

This library opens music to all. After a visit today, I have emerged with the writings of Wanda Landowska, the scores for Bach’s English and French Suites, an encyclopaedia of rock and pop music, and countless other volumes. I am hugely excited at the thought of the new discoveries that such books present; pieces of music I have yet to hear, composers I have yet to discover, and new areas of interest that are yet to open up. The books I have come away with today will no doubt inspire many a future composition of mine by exposing me to new ideas and possibilities. All for less than £20.

Some people may argue that this is just a library. But I argue that a library is far more than a building with some books; it is a symbol of our willingness to invest in education, culture and accessibility to the arts for all. Some too often see libraries and cultural centres as soft targets; because they don’t attract thousands of visitors a year, nor grab the national headlines frequently, they are too often side-lined. But they provide a vital service, and one that can hardly be measured in monetary terms. 

Libraries such as this open up music to all. Who doesn’t get a thrill from listening to a symphony? Who doesn’t recognise the power of a song that, despite having forgotten the names and faces of their closest relatives, triggers something in the mind of a Dementia-sufferer that allows them to recall the lyrics? The treasures discovered at a library stay with you for life. Libraries give inspiration to composers like me, and motivation to explore the breadth of what music has to offer. The treasures of our past are only accessible through such resources.

But it means even more than this. To protect this library, and countless others like it, means protecting not just our musical past, but also our musical future. Not only does the Performing Arts Library preserve the works and ideas of past musicians, but in making them available to today’s community, the Library also ensures that the work of the future is secure. Libraries such as this are an indication of our country’s willingness to invest in its own heritage, education, and in both its past and future. It is a statement of intent. So much more than ‘just a library’.

It would be careless to so flippantly discard such a vital national resource. Choosing to protect the Surrey Performing Arts Library is a choice to protect our community’s culture; a choice to allow young musicians like me to continue to access the best resources that will give us every opportunity to advance our musicianship; a choice to prove that we love the music we write so frequently about. It is precisely this love of music – not political character-assassination – that should make you sign the survey below today. 

When you have the choice to protect the music and education you value – you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you felt otherwise – then please take it. We must have this discussion because what it at stake is so much more than politics, or a mere building. This is a choice to defend the music that gives us all so much pleasure. This is a choice to make this music accessible to all.

Jack Pepper


Jack is an 18-year-old composer and writer from Surrey, who will soon start studying Music at Oxford University. Having written a fanfare for the Royal Opera House in 2016, he has since composed for Classic FM’S 25th birthday, in association with the Royal Philharmonic Society. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic are performing this commission in October 2017. As a writer has appeared on the Gramophone and RPS blogs, and as a reviewer for Opera Today.